FBI warns of phone kidnapping scam targeting U.S. residents

(WSVN) - If you get a call from a woman screaming for help, the FBI says you should hang up the phone.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has issued a warning about the scam, saying that while the idea isn’t new, more people in the U.S. could now be at risk.

The Miami Herald reports that the scheme works by tricking victims to paying ransoms in order to free family or friends that have supposedly been kidnapped.

The FBI says it started tracking calls, primarily from Mexican prisons, between 2013 and 2015. Prisoners often bribe guards in order to have cell phones behind bars. The calls targeted people who spoke Spanish, with most of the victims living in the Los Angeles and Houston areas.

Now the agency says the scammers are no longer targeting only Spanish speakers, and are expanding their reach throughout the U.S.

Scammers usually start the call by playing a recording of a woman screaming, the FBI says.

“Instinctively, the victim might blurt out his or her child’s name: ‘Mary, are you okay?'” agents wrote. That’s when the scammer would use that name to further frighten their victims.

According to the FBI’s website, “A man’s voice would say something like, ‘We have Mary. She’s in a truck. We are holding her hostage. You need to pay a ransom and you need to do it now or we are going to cut off her fingers.'”

The scammers will attempt to keep their victims on the phone so they cannot contact their loved ones to make sure they’re okay.

“The callers are always in a hurry, and the ransom demand is usually a wire payment to Mexico of $2,000 or less, because there are legal restrictions for wiring larger amounts across the border,” the FBI’s website says.

A recent FBI investigation found that over 80 people in California, Minnesota, Idaho and Texas became victims, paying more than $87,000 in ransom.

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